Equipment Upgrade Factors

What to investigate when considering an upgrade to high-volume apparel decorating equipment

Adam McCauley, co-owner of Sandlot Sports in Saginaw, Michigan, offers a list of factors to investigate when considering an upgrade to high-volume apparel decorating equipment

What is your workload like?

Assess your current and projected workload. Project workload is harder to account for, but if you’ve been in business a few years, you should be able to assess whether business is going up or down. We knew it was time when we were struggling to keep up with demand using our manual equipment. After two years of working all day and working all night, we knew it was going to be either turning down orders due to capacity limitations or considering automation.

How efficient are you?

Evaluate the efficiency of your current manual setup. Consider the time and labor required for each job. An automatic machine can significantly increase production speed, reducing labor costs and increasing output. We wanted to maximize our efforts in an 8-10 hour day.

Higher quality

Determine the quality of prints you’re achieving with your manual equipment. Automatic machines often provide more consistent and precise results, which can improve the quality of your products. The automatic machines don’t get tired. The pressure is consistent from print 1 to print 1,000. The same goes for reclamation and screen prep automation. Your goal should be consistency, and with some automation, you remove variables that can slow or alter print results.

Labor costs

Calculate your labor costs associated with manual printing. An automatic machine can reduce the need for skilled labor and potentially cut labor expenses over time. Obviously, there is a skill to printing on an automatic, but we’ve found that most of the skill is in the setup.

How are you decorating?

Consider the types of products you decorate. If you frequently print or embroider large quantities of the same design, an automatic machine is more suitable. However, if you specialize in custom or small-batch printing, manual equipment might still be cost-effective.

Budget and space

Automatic screen-printing machines can be a significant investment. Not only are you investing in an auto or a new six-head embroidery machine, for instance, but you’ll also need support equipment soon, if not before. You’ll need to evaluate your conveyor dryer. Can it keep up with your new capacity? Do you have a large enough air compressor? Do you even have an air compressor? What about power? Do you have Single-Phase or Three-Phase? Is there gas available to this new dryer, or is it still electric? All of those may affect your budget. Evaluate your financing options to determine if you can afford the upfront cost and if the long-term benefits outweigh the initial expense. Automatic machines tend to be larger than manual ones. Make sure you have adequate space in your shop for the new equipment and any additional accessories or conveyors required.

Timing and training

When purchasing new equipment, you may not get it as soon as you want. Some equipment may take weeks or months to get to you and be installed. Automatic machines may require specialized training to operate and maintain, and there will be a learning curve. Consider whether your staff is prepared for this transition and if additional training is necessary. It will be.

Maintenance and support

Research the maintenance requirements and availability of support for the specific automatic machine you are considering. Downtime due to maintenance issues can impact production schedules. Find out if you have technicians in your area or close by who can assist you quickly if you go down. Sometimes, the support technician can be a difference between this machine or that.

What is your return on investment (ROI) and future growth?

Calculate how long it will take to recoup your investment through increased production, reduced labor costs, and improved quality. Think about your long-term business goals. Will the automatic machine accommodate your future growth, or will you outgrow it quickly?

See it live

New equipment is expensive, but it’s more expensive if you get sold a dud of a machine. If you are looking for upgraded automatic machinery, a good salesperson should be able to give you a list of customers that are satisfied with their purchase. Ask for their contacts and call them. Ask if you can see their machines in action. On the show floor, every product is the greatest. Find someone that will let you see it “in the wild.” Ask real questions or concerns to the operators and see if this machine can perform the way the commercial says it does.

The best time to transition to automation varies depending on your unique circumstances. Generally, if you are consistently facing capacity constraints, experiencing increased demand, and have the financial means to invest in automation, it may be a good time to make the switch. However, it’s essential to thoroughly analyze all the factors mentioned

Adam McCauley

Adam McCauley

Adam McCauley is the co-owner of Sandlot Sports, a custom screen printing, embroidery, and promotional company that specializes in spiritwear, team uniforms, corporate workwear, and event T-shirts.

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